Why I hate the question, "Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?"

Written by Jenny Blake

"That which you can plan is too small for you to live." —Unknown

I cringe — absolutely cringe — every time I hear the question, "So . . . where do you see yourself in five years?" Any of you who have recently graduated or launched a big project are probably already inundated (and completely overwhelmed) by its cousin, "So . . . what's next?!"

We start to think there is something wrong with us if we don't know the answer.

I'm all for taking the long-term view when it comes to saving money, health, and other core values. But when it comes to career, I believe mid-life and quarter-life crises are relics of the past: our generation can expect to pivot every few years.

So let's stop seeing it as a crisis and stop putting so much pressure on ourselves (and others) to know what the future holds! According to Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling On Happiness, our brains are actually terrible at predicting what will make us happy in the future anyway.

Yes, this does mean leaning in to uncertainty and fear — and for those who prefer a cookie-cutter ladder or template, you may want to stop reading. This rally cry is for people who don't want to know exactly where they see themselves in five years.

Friends, family and job interviewers ask this question with the best of intentions, but I think it is absolute nonsense. Who the hell knows?! And those of us who think we know are often in for a rude awakening.

I used to know . . . and you know what happened?

That false sense of certainty bit me in the ass when my plans changed. I had a great job, a condo, and a car paid in full. But instead of continuing right along the train track I had set-up toward the American Dream of a house, kids, dog and husband, I took a little (okay big) detour: I quit my job, moved to New York City and started my own business.

I will hit three crazy years of solopreneurship in July. Five years ago I would have said you were utterly delusional if you told me this would be my new reality! It hasn't been easy, but it has been incredibly rewarding.

Why Five Years is Way Too Far to Plan Details

  • Did you know that every single cell in our body regenerates every seven years? [1]
  • And that the iPhone didn't even EXIST seven years ago? [2]
  • Social Media related jobs hardly existed in the form they do today five years ago
  • Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first African-American president just over five years ago [3]
  • And on a slightly longer timeframe but just as important, here's one of my favorite sayings from a visit to the Wat Umong temple during my time in Bali and Thailand last year:

Wat Umong's Talking Trees: "Cut yourself some slack. Remember, 100 years from now, All new people."

Here's My Workaround . . . What's Yours?

These days when I answer, I either tell people what I'm really excited about at the moment, or I'll tell them how I want to feel in five years (much like Danielle LaPorte's Core Desired Feelings approach): happy, engaged, grateful, healthy, like I am living a life of meaning and making an impact in the lives of others.

Honestly? I will be blessed just to keep doing this work, and to have my health and the health of my family — anything else is icing on the cake.

How about you? What's your answer to the dreaded 5-Year Plan Question?

Video: College Students Scared Straight Prank

On the subject of career pressure hilarity, you have to watch this Buzzfeed video -- discovered by Kelli and her workshop crew at the UC Davis Career Advising conference that I was grateful to keynote for recently!

[youtube id="NWWCpuqV4c0"]

About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career StrategistJenny Blake is the bestselling author of Life After College, a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business.

Today you can find her here on this blog (in it's seventh year!) and at JennyBlake.me, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.